Cinematography Question for The Last Jedi. Focus Breathing lens issue?

I am watching the Last Jedi on Netflix. I am only halfway through so no spoilers.

I noticed a strange effect a few times in the first half of the movie that I have never seen in a movie before. When the focus in a scene shifted, the picture seemed to compress/expand horizontally and/or vertically. In most instances it was slight, but noticeable.

There was one scene that it was so noticeable that it completely took me out of the movie. I thought to myself “How could they have left that in there? This is a super big-budget movie. Can they not do better than this?”

I thought I could not be the only one who noticed this, but my googling only brought up one Twitter discussion. They mention the same scene as I describe below. Several people chime in that they noticed it.

The worst example is after Kylo Ren and Rey start “talking” to each other from afar. Rey was in her hut, but she runs outside. Eventually Luke comes out of his hut, and the focus shifts from Rey’s face to Luke, and then back again. A few seconds later, it shifts from Rey’s face to the island keepers, and then back again. Same effect.

I know this is not a movie technical or lens forum, but I thought someone might be able to explain what is happening here, and why is this the only movie I have ever seen this? I thought this would be something that would happen using cheap lenses. I would think Star Wars has the best at their disposal!

I am not really sure what you are asking about but it sounds like transitions. Star Wars has always used noticeable transitions.

Can you provide as specific a time-stamp as possible?

I think I get it. You’re not talking about the transition - which for Star Wars movies is notable - but for the depth of vision of the focus of a shot.

So with three character, all at different distances from the lens, the focus starts on one, shifts to another, then shifts to a third. Each shift changing which character is in focus and which are blurred and out of focus.

Is that correct?

I has nothing to do with transitions.

I can’t get to Netflix at work. I took a hit to my phone’s data usage and looked it up. The scene starts at 1:45:20.

Yes. Sometimes movies or shows change the focus to move between characters that are different distances from the camera. Doing more research this is called Rack Focus.

All that being said, when you normally see rack focus, the picture does not appear to compress/stretch. But for some reason it does in The Last Jedi.

With my new fancy term “rack focus” I found a reddit thread with someone complaining about the same thing. They even have a Last Jedi gif example.

They also use the word “breathing.”

Some of their theories:

  1. It is just sloppy camera/lens work. But why would a Star Wars film have that? And multiple examples no less.
  2. It is because they were using anamorphic lenses. Still, why don’t you see this more often?
  3. It was used to give “the force” a visual presence. This doesn’t make much sense. Especially since the above example was with R2D2 and nothing to do with the force.

Well, I don’t remember the shot off the top of my head.

But I could postulate that when the focus is changing the camera also pans in or out thereby compressing or stretching the field of vision. That could account for what you see.

Here is another thread with someone complaining of the same thing. The OP says:

No satisfactory answer in the thread. At least I am not alone.

That doesn’t sound like it to me, since that’s a pretty common visual effect. The OP (and the linked Twitter thread) is describing some kind of stretching and squishing (from the Tweet: “and instead of just blurring the image actually squashes/stretches a bit.”). I am having a difficult time visualizing what is meant without a video example. If it’s simply the image slightly enlarging or contracting overall, that does tend to happen a little bit when you shift focus from front to back on a subject, especially if you’re focused really close for one of the subjects. (Although this happens both vertically and horizontallyl, not just in one dimension).

Oh, interesting. Yeah, that’s definitely different than what I’ve seen in depth-of-field changes.

I wondering if this somehow happened when converting to DVD/BluRay? Was anybody complaining about it when it was in theaters?

In the process of changing the depth of focus, I believe the lens changes position along the z-axis of the shot, which would almost necessarily affect the geometry of the scene as it is presented. Obviously, the greater the change, the more noticeable it is. I actually enjoy well-done rack focusing in a film, I think of it as a ballsy move on the cinematographer’s part, because I don’t think you can fix that kind of thing after the fact if it’s screwed up.


Edit: I am, for the record, not a big fan of the “Vertigo shot,” which is a zoom paired with a dolly, which (a) drastically affects the geometry of the shot and (b) is seldom well-done, IMHO.

I noticed this tonight while watching the last Jedi. I did not notice it at all in the theater. On the TV it is pretty glaring and distracting.

What’s weird about that is that the background stretches vertically, but then goes back once the focus is actually on R2D2. And it doesn’t happen gradually as they shift focus, either. The focus shifts, then the stretching, then it lands on R2D2, then it shrinks back.

It seems bizarre that anything could cause that to happen naturally.

So I had some fun last night learning how to make a GIF. Here is a clip from TLJ. It is 7.5 seconds long (so it is kind of large) that has two different focus shifts.

The first one is from Rey to Luke and back. It is less noticeable, but it stretches and compresses vertically.

The second one is from the caretakers to Rey and it compresses horizontally.

In the movie, these two are right next to each other which make it even more jarring.

I recall noticing this while watching the film in the cinema and I’m sure I’ve spotted it in other recent films too.

I wonder if it has anything to do with converting a film to 3d, specifically films that are post converted. Maybe this effect is easier for the conversion software to manage. Especially considering that in the example scenes there would be a strong 3d depth effect between the foreground character and the background.

I was thinking 3D post-processing also. Possibly also a result of CG compositing of multiple fore/background shots, since very little of these movies are actual physical set shots and much of it is green-screened background.

I wonder if this has to do with being shot with an anamorphic lens.

I’ve seen this phenomenon in the theater for years but it never though enough about it to complain. In any event, it’s not a disk-derived artifact. Color banding, OTOH…

Eh, I see what you’re saying, but it doesn’t bother me at all (P.S. I didn’t like this movie). My guess is it’s an artifact of whatever equipment they’re using, or stylistically deliberate. Heck, could even be digital trickery. On my new phone you can post-shot adjust the depth of field digitally. I imagine in a movie the ability to do that in the editing process would be quite useful.